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Showing posts with label CALEB PORTER. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CALEB PORTER. Show all posts

Monday, November 25, 2013

The magic of the 2013 Portland Timbers

As the game drew to a close last night at Jeld-Wen Field, there was an underwhelming feeling spreading through the stands in the stadium and the city and around the country for all the Timbers faithful. Real Salt Lake had won by 1-0 thanks to a Robbie Findley goal, bringing the aggregate score to 5-2 and eliminating Portland.

But the chanting went on and happy faces remained, for Portland had just achieved one of the most amazing one-season turnarounds in the league's history. Last season the team was losing matches left and right and goal scoring was so deplorable that the DP was benched and struggling Danny Mwanga was acquired from Philadelphia. This year the team lost a total of 6 matches at home and had an incredible unbeaten streak for much of the season.

The real change for Portland came through the addition of their coach: Caleb Porter. The former Akron coach was known for his attractive attacking style and great interpersonal skills with his pupils. It worked. Portland was fun to watch and hard to beat.

The addition of Diego Valeri and Will Johnson changed the shape and the direction of the team on the pitch and brought attacking and defending qualities that had lacked all through the first two seasons of the Timbers. Most importantly, however, was that Valeri helped Darlington Nagbe come close to reaching his potential as a bona fide MLS star.

Perhaps the greatest victory for the team this year came just a few weeks ago against none other than the Seattle Sounders. And better yet, this happened in the playoffs in a home-and-home series that saw Portland win both games convincingly. It was this, perhaps, that made most of us believe the team might go all the way.

Caleb Porter instituted a fluid form of attack with the ability to quickly shift all resources to defense, a total football approach championed by the Dutch in the 1970s and 1980s and adopted by many coaches throughout the world. He brought back Danso to the center back position and acquired Kah as his partner. Together with a repositioned Jewsburry at right back and Michael Harrington on the left and Porter had a key to fluidity and athleticism necessary for his total football scheme.

Portland is a young team. Only 3 years in the league. It is this fact which separates it from squads like Real Salt Lake. For all the magic and talent, there is little in the way of backup. Alhassan and Zemanski can only do so much and Ryan Johnson and Piquione and Urruti are not reliable strikers. In contrast, Salt Lake  has Sandoval and Velasquez and Plata.

Next season these holes will likely be filled and Portland might become an even stronger team. But Today we thank the Timbers for a wonderful season full of memories and goals and firsts and for going into Seattle and grabbing the win when it counted. We don't need the Dempseys and Martins and Eddie Johnsons of the footballing world to be great. Then again, what if we did add one or two marquee players to the team? 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Timbers and RSL rise in the West and reach conference final

The moment the referee called a penalty for the Timbers at Jeld-Wen field midway through the first half of the conference semifinal versus Seattle, you knew this game would be fun to watch. And also not into overtime like the other playoff games. For Salt Lake the moment came when the diminutive, 5'5" Sebastian Velasquez was left alone for a header that tied the global score.

The results now pit RSL and the Portland Timbers in a somewhat unprecedented Western Conference final with two of the youngest coaches in the league in Caleb Porter and Jason Kreis. Beating the establishment figures of Bruce Arena and Sigi Schmid speaks volumes for them and for the development of American soccer coaches.

Salt Lake imposed their game on the Galaxy but it was more the Galaxians' lack of cohesiveness, luck and missing pieces that assured the team would not threepeat in winning the tournament. Perhaps the Magee-Robbie Rogers transfer was the worst decision by Arena and Galaxy management and could arguable have cost them the title.

For Seattle the negatives are a bit more grave. For one, the Dempsey transfer has been a dud since he has only managed to score once in 11 days ever since his record-setting signing from Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League. Martins, Rosales and Johnson bore some of the brunt but still couldn't make it work for a heavy-spending and trophy-hungry fan base that continues to set records in attendance. Clearly, something must be done and Sigi Schmid is in peril. Bob Bradley, anyone?

The Portland Timbers have played their game. Caleb Porter's game. All offense and all defense in a perfect unit. Only five loses during the regular season and the only team to win both legs of the Conference semifinal and that didn't require overtime.

The key to Portland's success is their midfield: Diego Valeri, Will Johnson and Darlington Nagbe. Those three provide the spark and the goals. Chara, Alhassan and Zemaski contain the opposing squad while Kah and Danso outmaneuver attackers down the middle. Jack Jewsbury has found a nice spot for his new location at right back and is making the most of it.

Portland's win versus the Sounders was a tribute to their style. Will Johnson's well-taken penalty started things off right on time and Valeri's masterful goal added to Seattle's agony still in the first half. Danso's header early in the second half after a trademark fast-free kick played well with Caleb Porter. He nodded at the goal without much celebration as if saying "yup, I planned that."

Portland will need to be careful with lazy defending against RSL because Kreis's crew can punish you very fast, as was shown with Velasquez's go-ahead goal last night. DeAndre Yedlin's goal for Seattle, which sparked a 2-goal comeback, could have been averted by better positioning by Ricketts and the defense. Porter will need to fix these errors and prepare for a very difficult task in going to Utah this Sunday. They haven't defeated Salt Lake this season and now might be the time to do it.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cascadia Forever: Dempsey and Seattle face Portland

Photo credit: Portland Timbers
At the start of the match on ESPN2 we all knew the stakes. For Seattle it's their home-opener, of sorts, as Clint Dempsey makes his first start in front of his new home crowd. For Portland it is something to prove, to remain ahead of the Sounders and closer to the playoffs. For the league it's a seminal moment where their biggest rivals play in the biggest stage full of stars and a sellout crowd that rivals and surpasses most in the world.

At halftime, on the pitch, Portland seemed like the better side. Diego Valeri's wonderstrike hit the woodwork and the Portland faithful held their breaths and closed their eyes in disappointment. Still zero - zero.

For Seattle one thing was clear. Sharlie Joseph and Brad Evans in the midfield weren't allowing the width and pockets that Dempsey needs for his brand of magic. Eddie Johnson also looked a bit lonely out there even though he had a national team striking partner at his side.

The second half was different. In what should have been the true starting lineup, Mauro Rosales came in for Seattle in place of Sharlie Joseph and changed the game with a perfect free kick lob that Eddie Johnson put away.

Most of the second half was Seattle's. Portland seemed lost at times and Valeri rarely saw the  ball and Nagbe was left alone to try kicks from long range. Valencia did not provide the necessary energy when he replaced Ryan Johnson and Will Johnson's presence was sorely missed.

Seattle won tonight and so did the league. Dempsey may not have scored but he played, he his presence felt to the Timbers and to the newly-adoring fans. For the Timbers this was only their fourth loss of the season. Not a good time to start losing more games but with two games in hand compared to most of the Western Conference, this team still had plenty of chance to get their place in the post-season. The fans believe in this blue-collar squad and their young coach, Porter. It's not over yet for this rivalry since they meet On Sunday, Oct 13.

For other fans out there, I'll include this hashtag: #RCTID

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Final 2012 Timbers game: the live experience

It was a historical day in the Rose City today. The crowd at Jeld-Wen Field saw the San Jose Earthquakes' striker Chris Wondolowski tie for the most goals scored during regular season (27), a record set by Roy Lassiter during the inaugural MLS season back in 1996. The goal came from a soft penalty kick on a bad call by the referee in response to Steven Lenhart's apparent foul by Donovan Rickets.

Regardless of the method, Wondolowski got his 27th goal and will go down in history as one of the most consistent goal-scorers the league has ever seen. He has now been the top scorer in MLS for two seasons: 2010 and 2012 and has amassed 64 goals for San Jose.

As for the Timbers, this was a different kind of game. Without a post-season to play for and Cascadia Cup already won, this was more of an exhibition game in which the players kept on performing for the sake of maintaining a high profile on the wake of Caleb Porter's arrival as the new head coach. There was little flow through the middle of the park, with Chara constantly being blocked and Nagbe largely ineffective for long periods of the game. Steve Smith provided a spark on the left side and Bright Dike always looked dangerous, if without as many chances, although his perseverance allowed for Portland's tying goal that left the final score 1-1.

The real winner today was the crowd. We sat at a completely different vantage point at the stadium today, closer to the Timbers Army. This provided great views of most of the field and kept us dry from the drenching Pacific rains. The best part, as always, was the atmosphere. Every seat was full even though this game didn't matter competitively, even though it rained heavily at times, even though there were a myriad college football games to watch on TV. 

Jeld-Wen field is a magical place. Outside, its creeping vines rise up the walls above the front gates and turn a pinkish orange tint with autumn. Inside, the crowds smile and you can see babies and children carried by their parents. You also see the more raucous groups belonging to the Timbers Army or the casual group of avid fans. It is a place of diversity where soccer is king. This city, after all, is Soccer City USA.

Thanks, Portland Timbers, for another season of memories.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Loss of a generation: US U-23 out of the Olympics

Photo credit: Getty Images

If there were words for tonight's last match for the US team in Olympic qualifying it would definitely be disbelief. How could such a talented team not even make it out of the group stage after losing to Canada and surrendering a lead at the last second to El Salvador? Was the team really not that good? Had the team peaked too early? Was Caleb Porter too young to be the coach? Would Agudelo have made a difference? The answer is, probably, all of the above.

Although it was a dream start in the first minute with a sublime strike by Borussia Dortmund forward Terrence Boyd, the Salvadorans pressed and got two goals in quick succession against an ailing Bill Hamid. The US did come back from 1-2 down thanks to great goals from Boyd and Corona. Unfortunately, a lack of concentration in the final seconds allowed for a sublime shot from the Salvadoran player that went past Sean Johnson and qualified the Salvadorans to the semifinals. And yes, there should have been a clear penalty in the USA's favor that could have sent the score to 4-2 and may have won the game for the Americans.

The sad truth after today is the loss of a generation of players. Agudelo, Diskerud, Shea, Corona, Boyd and Gyau, arguably the best of the bunch, will not see the light of the Olympics to catapult them further in their careers. Gone is also perhaps the last chance for Freddy Adu to finally silence his critics with a stellar international tournament. No, not fair at all.

What does this mean for US Soccer? A major setback for sure. Not only did the U-20s miss the last World Cup of that division, but now the older U-23s will also lose the opportunity to compete against top international teams.

The frustration behind this sore loss for US Soccer reverberates all the way to the top. Porter was clearly Klinsmann's choice for this group of players. The full national team is seeing a revival of late, however, with impressive wins at Slovenia and Italy. But what happens when Dempsey and Donovan aren't around? Do Shea, Corona and Agudelo make up for it? How does missing the Olympics prepare them for the future?

There are some interesting facts after today's loss: 1.) Concacaf competition is getting increasingly better, 2.) Terrence Boyd and Joe Corona had breakthrough performances, 3.) Mexico did not qualify for Olympics 2008.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Corona hat trick: USA U-23 vs Cuba

Photo credit: AP

The Olympic qualifiers are underway and the US U-23 crew has started off on the right foot with a resounding 6-0 victory over Cuba. Granted, this is Cuba and the island nation's defender was ejected in the 19th minute. Still, plenty of offensive firepower, control of the ball and great skills were displayed.

The Olympic squad as an U-23 team is the last step in player development for national teams. Last time around we were treated to Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Maurice Edu and Charlie Davies. Advancing to the finals of the Concacaf tournament means passage to the summer Olympics in London. Once there all bets are off for Caleb Porter's crew.

Caleb Porter is an up-and-coming collegiate coach that took Akron to its first ever win in a sports tournament for any discipline. He was offered the DC United post but declined it in favor of continuing with Akron. He has described himself as a possession-oriented, attack-minded strategist. A great column on this coach is available here.

The players to watch in this tournament are as exciting as last time around. In fact, most of these players already take part in MLS squads, Mexican Primera and Europe. Some, like Mixx Diskerud, are highly regarded by most in the soccer media. Also in the mix is Joe Gyau of Hoffenheim, who has shown promise for the Bundesliga team and will likely take part in league games sometime soon.

MLS stars abound in this squad: Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Juan Agudelo, Freddy Adu, Ike Opara, Kofi Sarkodie, Zarek Valentin, Brek Shea. None was more impressive tonight than Brek Shea and is further testament to this young player's bright future.

A secret weapon on this team is Joe Corona. The Tijuana Xolo exploded onto the scene in the Mexican Primera and, after toying with representing Mexico internationally, had a change of heart and decided to play for USA. His hat trick tonight was sure to send shockwaves among soccer media and fans of Team USA.

Both Corona and Diskerud were particularly impressive. Diskerud's quick passing and cheeky moves were enough to distract the Cuban players and his back and forth with Adu and Corona made for some fun soccer to watch. And yes, Adu still has it. A great long distance shot reminded us of that fact.

The USA U-23 still have two more games in the group phase against Canada and El Salvador. Both are much more demanding opponents than Cuba but it looks like this American team has what counts to make it deep into the tournament. They did, after all, defeat the other powerhouse--Mexico--in a friendly in February by the score of 2-0.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

America's college game: Akron prevails

There may be no promotion/relegation in America's professional soccer league system. The Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps are entering MLS as expansion sides, not as promoted squads from the USSF-2 lower division. There is also a rising tide of player development within MLS teams, but nowhere near enough to have significant homegrown talent. But American futbol has another type of soccer: the College game. Today, Akron prevailed by the score of 1-0 over Louisville and are now the NCAA champions.

Caldwell's strike in the second half gave the Zips the only goal of the match in a game that was largely controlled by the Ohio team throughout the first half. Louisville could have scored at least twice in the dying moments of the game in front of an open net. In the end, it was a deserved win for Akron and its outstanding coach: Caleb Porter. The Zips could and should have won last year but were defeated on penalties by Virginia.

But what is the real importance of the college game? How does it affect US soccer? Very much so. If you are familiar with certain names: Dempsey (Furman), Charlie Davies (Boston College), Carlos Bocanegra (UCLA), then suddenly it becomes obvious that significant talent can be found in this player pool. It is also a means for MLS to acquire the best talent available in the United States, even international players like Zakuani and Ngwenya. The US' love affair with "college draft" is preserved in the American soccer league and it deserves credit for portioning talent in an equal manner for all MLS teams.

There are some caveats to the college game, however. For one, there are the "time outs" and countdown clock. These two are as American as apple pie. There's no such thing in the world's game. Even if there are 45 minute halves, the fact that these rules remain in place surely subtracts from the league's reputation. It thus places it as an afterthought for many American fans of the game and even more so for the rest of the planet.

How long will the college tournament last in its relative prestige? With the increasing player development in most MLS teams, the situation for college players changes a bit... or does it? Maybe it should be regarded for what it is: a lower division full of youngsters eager to make the jump to professional soccer. If the NASL (formerly USL and USSF-D2) is the "Championship" or "Serie B" of the USA, then the NCAA is the "League One" or "Serie C" of US soccer. Or is it more of an alternate second division? In the end it means this: more players, more talent.